Families Portrayed In Roddy Doyle's Books
Why do we hear so much about family these days? Perhaps it is because
relationships between family members are assumed to be the prototype for all
other social relations. In the novels, The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van,
Roddy Doyle shows his support of the family as an institution. Each character
demonstrates strength and direction within the family unit. However, when the
stability of the family is threatened, each character breaks down along with the
When we think of family life we associate happiness, a life of sharing
memories and developing unbreakable friendships. It is easy to create a family
that is make believe, we just tend to leave the ugly side of the relationship
out. It may be true that there is a family that lives like the "Cleavers" in
our society today, but speaking realistically every family will breakdown
eventually. In an interview about his novels the author said, "I didn't set out
to capture the good in every family, or bad for that matter, I just wanted to
show a typical Irish family."1 Doyle's writing is real--he deals with issues
that might not hit home with every reader however, they are events that
confront many people every day. The Rabbitte family is used in all three novels
that make up the "Barrytown Trilogy." While the times are both good and bad for
the eight members of this Irish family, in some way they find a way overcome
every problem that faces them.
One of Doyle's strengths is his feel for personality: his characters are
neither devils nor clowns, dolts nor wits, but wobble between the extremes.
"They're fish gutters and mechanics, young knockabouts and unemployed workers
who spend a lot of time watching T.V. drinking Guinness and jawing at the pub,
trying to stave off the feelings that they are nondescript people in a
The Commitments is Doyle's first full-length novel. The main character
Jimmy Rabbitte, the eldest son, puts together a band. It is almost every
teenager's dream, at some point, to be famous playing music in front of large
groups of people. In fact, this is how this book started off. In the end,
however, it turns out to be the complete opposite. Doyle captures the emotions
of his characters when they are weak and leaves an impact on the reader with his
humorous wit. He describes his writing as "a challenge that's the enjoyable
part. To an extent, that's what happened with all my books because I've never
experienced any of the subjects I write about. I used to be a ten-year old boy,
but I certainly didn't watch my parents marriage disintegrate. I was never in a
band, I've never been pregnant and I've never been unemployed for a day in my
life."3 It is shown that Doyle has strong family values. In his writing he
clearly demonstrates that if one family member falls, it effects the rest of the
family. In The Commitments, throughout the entire novel, the band acts like a
family. As the manager, Jimmy plays the role of the father figure and trys to
keep the band reaching higher levels, together. But, as members begin to fight
Jimmy finds it more difficult to keep the group together.
"Now, said Jimmy-tell your Uncle Jimmy all about it.
-Jimmy could see Billy thinking
It's just- I hate him, Jimmy. I hate him -- I can't even sleep at
The drummer, Billy's leaving was because of Deco, the lead singer of the
band who he couldn't face. Because they never talked, working out their problems
was never accomplished. The Commitments worked as a team to reach its success
but when the group was on the brink of acheiving stardom individual motives
began to cause problems. When the band stopped acting like a family unit the
fights broke out. "Somewhere in the quarter of an hour Jimmy had been
negotiating with Dave from Eejit Records, The Commitments had broken up." Jimmy
came to the conclusion that it was over. He moved on and kept his mind off the
band. Success had in fact destroyed the once harmonious group.
In The Snapper Doyle uses a interesting topic: pregnancy. Sharon, the
eldest Rabitte daughter accidentally gets pregnant. In the end, the father turns
out to be her own father's best friend. The beginning stage of her family
breaking down is when she finally confronts them about her being pregnant. While
the family accepts the fact that she is unmarried and pregnant, they have
several fights over the identity of the child's father. Sharon is stubborn and
won't reveal any names and the rest of the family is hurt and angry because it
feels that it deserves to know who the father is.
"Jimmy Sr got down to buisness
-who was it
-wha?- Oh I don't know
-Ah now, jaysis
-No, I do know
-well , then
-I'm not telling
-Jimmy Sr could feel himself getting angry now".5
Whether the problem is little or big the Rabbitte family always muddles
through and deals with it. Sharon had put herself in the middle of the biggest
problem yet. She feels hurt and while she never wanted to put her family through
pain or suffering, that that is what she was doing. At the same time, she was
trying to deal with the changing of her own body and working on making herself
come to terms about what she had done. In effect everybody was suffering.
-Wha' kind of a house is this at all? he asked the table.
-He looked at Veronica. She was deciding if she'd throw the
marmalade at the twins.
-A man get's up in the mornin', said Jimmy Sr.-an'-an'
-Oh shut up, said Veronica.6
It is now clear that as a result of tension in the house the two parents
in the family were developing a negativity against each other. It was Sharon's
decision to hide the truth, but it was also up to her to become realistic and
tell the truth before it tore the family apart anymore.
The final novel in the trilogy is The Van. It focuses on the dad, Jimmy
Sr. The fun-loving father of the Rabbitte family had been recently laid off
work. So, Jimmy Sr. and his best friend, Bimbo open a portable fast-food
restaurant called Bimbo's Burgers. It is located in a greasy old van that would
never pass an inspection. The father's role can't be left unmentioned. Jimmy
Sr. has a lot of control over his family. Throughout the series he is viewed as
the descision maker, a role model and as a source of family strength. As soon
as the father shows a little bit of unhappiness the rest of the family start to
lose hope. Doyle once said "Friendship is something that is understood the world
over, and unfortunately, so is unemployment." Doyle makes his belief clear in
The Van by showing the pain that is put on the family when one bread-winner
loses his job. Coming from a family whose income is not very high, unemployment
could possibly be one of the worst thing to ever happen. There is no money for
Christmas presents, so the kids are upset. Darren the youngest boy in the
family has learned all about unemployment and welfare. One night when the
family is eating Darren says something to upset his father whose reply is:
"Darren, don't you forget who paid for tha' dinner in front of
you, son, righ'
-I know who paid for it, said Darren. -The state did."7
This reaction not only made Jimmy Sr. upset but, he came to terms with
the fact that he was going nowhere and if he wanted things to get better he had
better get a job soon.
The Rabittes may have gone through times when they wanted to kill each
other, but other times they cared. Doyle is a down-to-earth writer, he shows
the way of life for many families with the use of slang in his writing and his
abillity to capture humour when the times are hard. The Rabbitte family shared
many bonds, they had many memories and of course many fights, but they are a
family. They may be fictional but they represent a modern family. It is true
that when the stability of the family is threatened, each character breaks down
along with the family itself.
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